May, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 5
Book reviewsGlobal workplace violence
Book reviews from past issues
Global workplace violence
Violence at Work. 2nd ed. By Duncan Chappell and Vittorio Di Martino. Geneva, International Labour Office, 171 pp. Available from ILO Publications Center, Waldorf, MD.
This book, produced under the auspices of the International Labour Office (ILO), based in Geneva, Switzerland, describes a cross-national, comprehensive examination of violence at work in nations around the world. The forward to the book states it is designed to promote additional research and new preventive action in the area of workplace violence. The volume is composed of seven chapters divided into three parts: 1) Understanding Violence at Work; 2) Responding to Violence at Work, including identifying best solutions to the problem; and 3) Future Guidance, which weighs the evidence and suggests specific, practical action based on successful experience.
This international study examines violence in industrialized and agrarian nations. The authors point out, quite rightly, that workplace violence is "not merely an episodic problem…" but rather, "a highly complex issue rooted in wider social, economic, and organizational and cultural factors." While analysis of statistical data is impeded by the lack of agreement regarding "violence," "work," and "workplace" definitions, the authors report that "violence" and "aggression" are terms used interchangeably. They cite Reiss and Roth’s (1993) definition of violence: "behaviours by individuals that intentionally threaten, attempt or inflict physical harm on others or on oneself."
The ILO has expanded this operationalization to include violence that is psychological in nature, including emotional abuse, infliction of fear and anxiety, sexual harassment, bullying, and mobbing ("ganging up" on an employee). The ILO list of violent acts ranges from "deliberate silence" to "homicide," which suggests a weakness of this work. The authors cite an extensive amount of important research-based findings, but these studies encompass numerous varied situations and scenarios under the rubric of "workplace violence." Thus, the complexity of these situations makes it virtually impossible to design interventions to address all, or even most, workplace situations where violence is likely to arise. The authors also point out that the incidence of workplace violence appears to be rising, but acknowledge that this trend may be due to increased reporting of violent incidents in many nations.
The authors posit an interactive model of workplace violence that accounts for both individual and workplace risk factors that affect perpetrator and victim interaction. These factors range from cultural to personality, and media influences. Further, the model accentuates the violent interaction’s effect on the workplace, victim, and perpetrator. The model provides a theoretical vehicle or system from which to develop useful interventions. It should be noted that some interventions, such as attempting to identify potentially violent employees through psychological testing, background checks, and substance abuse tests, have the potential to conflict with privacy rights and legal issues, and may have validity problems that can challenge their effectiveness.
The authors cite organizational models of managing occupational violence, which they believe provide guidelines for preventing workplace violence. These models emphasize the necessity of preventive action, prevailing upon the interpersonal skills of management and workers; an understanding that the workplace holds insights into effective interventions; the implementation of a multitude of interventions; and the caveat that policies and programs should be reviewed frequently to address workplace changes.
The final chapter proscribes future actions and lobbies strongly for the adoption of a universal zero tolerance policy toward workplace violence. Acknowledging that no nation is immune from the rising wave of workplace violence, they favor increasing awareness of this problem, and believe interactive models of workplace violence hold the key to enhancing predictions of violent incidents. Other key elements to successful action include cooperation among interested parties to promote workplace violence reduction efforts, a preventive, systematic, and targeted approach to violence at work; institution of focused legislation; adoption of effective prevention guidelines; immediate intervention and long-term assistance to victims of violence; and universal acceptance that workplaces throughout the world should be free of violence and aggression.
An impressive list of cross-national references is provided, as well as important and useful research-based guidelines on effective prevention measures, defusing workplace aggression, post-incident planning, and effective reportings of violent incidents. This volume is informative, clearly written, comprehensive, and will raise awareness of a serious and pervasive social problem that affects numerous workers around the world.
—Sylvia Kay Fisher
Office of Survey Methods Research,
Bureau of Labor Statistics
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